The Latest: Australian official rejects Chinese criticisms
The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.
TOP OF THE HOUR:
— Countries and U.S. states are moving to reopen gradually amid warnings that acting too quickly could enable the virus to come back with a vengeance.
— Serbia lets elderly outside for the first time in more than a month.
— Australian minister rejects Chinese criticism that it's parroting the U.S.
— President Trump to ask Harvard to refund multimillion-dollar grant.
CANBERRA, Australia — A senior Australian minister has rejected Chinese criticisms that Australia is parroting the United States in calls for transparency on the origins of the coronavirus.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Wednesday described Chinese Foreign Ministry criticisms as “unwarranted and unjustified.”
The Chinese ministry has criticized Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s call last week for China to be transparent about the origins of the virus.
Frydenberg told Australian Broadcasting Corp., “Dutton’s role, the prime minister’s role, my role, and all our colleagues’ roles, is to defend the Australian national interest, and that’s what we’ll continue to do, and we’ll speak up about it as required.”
Dutton’s call for Chinese transparency came after U.S. officials revealed intelligence agencies were assessing whether the respiratory virus escaped from a biological laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began.
The Chinese ministry said Dutton had obviously “received some instructions from Washington.”
“These days, certain Australian politicians are keen to parrot what those Americans have asserted and simply follow them in staging political attacks on China,” a ministry spokesman said in a transcript posted on the Chinese Embassy in Australia’s website.
The ministry has also attacked Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne over her call this week for an independent review into the origins of the virus, including China’s handling of the initial outbreak.
The ministry said her “remarks are not based on facts.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is placing a 60-day pause on the issuance of certain immigration green cards in an effort to limit competition for jobs in a U.S. economy wrecked by the coronavirus.
The move is an effort to limit competition for jobs in a U.S. economy wrecked by the coronavirus. Trump said it would not impact those in the country on a temporary basis and would apply only to those looking for green cards in hopes of staying.
An administration official familiar with the plan said it would include suspending employment-based green cards and green cards for relatives of green card holders who are not citizens. The official spoke on condition of anonymity before the plan was announced.
But Americans who wish to bring immediate family to the country would still be able to do so. It's unclear how long the restrictions would last.
About one million people were granted green cards last year.
NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana urged the New Orleans Police Department to abandon plans to set up checkpoints where police could determine whether motorists are wearing seat belts and “verbally provide information” about city stay-at-home orders.
“Rather than stopping the spread of COVID-19, these checkpoints will exacerbate it by needlessly increasing the interactions between police and the public,” Alanah Odoms Hebert, ACLU of Louisiana executive director, said in a news release questioning the constitutionality of checkpoints.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he will ask Harvard University to repay money it received as part of a coronavirus relief package.
And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that while some big businesses have obtained access to government loans, the intent of the program was not for big public companies to get loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.
The White House comments come amid media reports that some of the money intended for small business loans went to larger entities.
Trump says of Harvard “they shouldn’t be taking it.” He says the university, which received more than $8 million, has a large endowment to rely on.
Mnuchin says he wants to make sure money goes to small businesses and that more than 1 million companies with fewer than 10 workers have received loans.
Congress is trying to meet huge demand for the program with legislation that passed Tuesday in the Senate and is expected to pass the House later this week.
MINNEAPOLIS — Muslims in south Minneapolis will be able to maintain safe physical distance during the call to prayer throughout the holy month of Ramadan.
The call to prayer will be broadcast by speaker five times each day to allow neighborhood residents to pray together.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey facilitated the noise permit after the community requested the service. The Council on American-Islamic Relations paid for the audio equipment for the broadcasts from a mosque.
The broadcasts are expected to reach thousands of residents while allowing them to maintain safe physical distance for prayer during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramadan starts Thursday and ends May 23.
KITTY HAWK, N.C. — Officials in one county on North Carolina’s Outer Banks plan to open a town to non-resident property owners this week, while a second county said it will open up to owners there next month.
Dare County announced it would permit non-resident property owners to return beginning on May 4. A statement from officials there said it will address access for visitors at a later date.
Currituck County announced on Monday that it will reopen the town of Corolla to non-resident property owners on Thursday and to visitors on May 15, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, both counties established checkpoints on U.S. Highway 158 at the Wright Memorial Bridge to control the spread of the virus. Opposition to the checkpoint led the Currituck County Board of Commissioners to announce its move affecting Corolla.
UNITED NATIONS — China said this is a time for solidarity and cooperation, not “finger-pointing” and “politicization” as its top diplomats in New York officially handed over a donation of medical supplies to hard-hit New York City to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Consul-General Huang Ping recalled at Tuesday’s online ceremony that China’s President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump “called for anti-epidemic cooperation between our two nations and the world” in their last phone call on March 17.
After weeks of elaborate praise of president Xi’s performance in the pandemic, Trump has turned to blaming China and halting U.S. contributions to the World Health Organization, accusing it of parroting misinformation from Beijing.
Huang said the American people helped China “without hesitation” when it was in great difficulty, and its consulate and U.N. mission have donated 25,000 N95 masks, 2,000 protective suits, and 75,000 pairs of medical gloves, which reached New York last weekend.
According to incomplete estimates, Huang said, China has also donated 1,000 ventilators, 6,550,000 masks, 310,000 pairs of surgical gloves, 150,000 goggles and 32,000 protective suits to the United States, much of it to New York.
“As the two biggest economies in the world, China and the United States need to lead the effort to fighting the coronavirus,” Huang said.
SALEM, Ore. — The White House told governors their leadership is critical in testing for the coronavirus, providing a map showing that Oregon is among four states with the lowest testing capacity in the United States.
Oregon, Montana, Oklahoma and Maine are able to test fewer than 30 in 1,000 people a month, according to an email sent Monday by the White House coronavirus task force.
The states with the highest monthly testing capacity — more than 90 in 1,000 people — are Wyoming, Utah and Vermont, the email said.
Rapid and efficient testing is needed to identify where the virus is emerging and allow authorities to track people who may have been exposed, according to the email, which Gov. Kate Brown’s office released after a public records request by The Oregonian/OregonLive. Testing also gives states a tool as they decide when and how to start lifting stay-at-home orders.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said the number of testing machines is only part of the equation to get full capacity.
“All the machines in the world won’t make a difference if we can’t get the test kits and other supplies needed to run the tests,” Bullock said.
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said the White House email “does nothing to answer the repeated calls from governors" to address the lack of supplies and personnel needed to take advantage of lab capacity.
The White House acknowledged those shortages in the email and said it was working to address those issues.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s health secretary has revised the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases after acknowledging double counting last week.
Lorenzo González said Tuesday that the number of cases dropped to 915 from 1,298 as revisions continue. This means the U.S. territory’s coronavirus fatality rate has increased with at least 64 deaths reported. Officials note that more than 1,700 test results are pending.
Puerto Rico has the lowest per capita testing rate compared with any U.S. state, with some 11,800 people tested on the island of 3.2 million inhabitants.
González also said he expects the nearly two-month lockdown that expires May 3 will be extended to June 1, although with some modifications amid pressure from business owners. The governor is expected to make a formal announcement in upcoming days.
LONDON — The British government is providing funding for studies of potential vaccines against the new coronavirus, one of which will start Thursday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at the government’s daily press briefing that the U.K. is at the “forefront of the global effort” to find a vaccine and will provide financial assistance for the research being conducted at Oxford University and Imperial College London.
The project at Imperial will receive 22.5 million pounds ($28 million) while Oxford’s will be granted 20 million pounds ($24.5 million). The Oxford study is slated to start with healthy volunteers on Thursday.
Hancock also said that the government will invest in manufacturing capacity in the event any of the vaccine candidates work.
However, he cautioned about the prospects of success, saying the process of vaccine development is one of “trial and error and trial again.”
Several studies of other vaccine candidates already are underway in the U.S. and China.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Hundreds of people frustrated with Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order designed to blunt COVID-19 marched on Tuesday around his home, demanding that he cancel it now to unleash the state’s economy.
Carrying placards and banners and chanting, the protesters gathered in a parking lot before being escorted by Raleigh police motorcycles to walk through streets downtown, including those surrounding the Executive Mansion. The final participants in the ReopenNC crowd, while raucous at times, ultimately dispersed peaceably about three hours later.
Cooper’s current order expires April 29, but the governor has said expanded widespread testing and supplies, extensive contact tracing and slowed case and hospital rates are needed before movement and commerce restrictions can ease. Cooper told reporters later Tuesday that the state hasn’t done that yet. He said that he would release more specifics this week about the goals that must be met to loosen the controls.
“I know that many people are frustrated, anxious and eager to get back to work and school. I also know that many people want to make sure that their families are as safe as possible from this virus,” Cooper said.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia’s elderly ventured outside on Tuesday for the first time in more than a month as authorities eased some of the strict measures that have been in place against the new coronavirus.
The government now allows people over 65 years old to go out for a walk three times a week during a daily curfew when the rest of the population must stay indoors. Authorities say they want to keep the vulnerable elderly residents safe.
Serbia has introduced some of the toughest rules in Europe as part of efforts to curb the spread of the virus. People over 65 were only allowed to go shopping for groceries once a week and very early in the morning.
Most people who ventured out Tuesday evening were wearing face masks and some couples were holding hands. One man said he was out for the first time in 35 days.
Serbia has reported 6,890 cases of infection with the new coronavirus, while 130 people have died.